Every year around this time, a media outlet or two writes an article predicting an upcoming “summer from hell,” predicated on record passenger volumes and airport staffing shortages. And while summers are definitely tougher when it comes to wait times, we can generally fumble our way through. In fact, the last true summer from hell that I remember is 2000, when we’d feel fortunate to be 26th in line for take-off. Thus, we’ve become immune to the cries of wolf every year. This year, though, might actually be different. There is a confluence of events that may lead to longer wait times and more cancelled flights in the summer of 2019.
The Boeing 737 Max Will be on the Sidelines
This was supposed to be the first big year for Boeing’s 737-Max, the newest narrow-body in the fleet. With the plane now sidelined as the FAA inspects it, airlines are pulling it out of their fleets. Boeing had originally hoped that it would return to service by sometime in June, but that may get pushed back until at least August.
That creates two problems. First, three of the “Big Four” carriers (Southwest, American and United) will be pulling back six dozen of the planes (Delta does not have it in their fleet.). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but these jets are workhorses.
Under normal circumstances, airlines could have made up much of the difference, but we’re likely dealing with a record number of travelers. Planes are flying out full, so I’m not sure where they’re going to put these people. There simply aren’t many empty seats.
Homeland Security Steps in with a Gut Punch
I’m not seeing as many people talking about the TSA, but we could be dealing longer lines at security. According to the linked Bloomberg article, Homeland Security could be sending as many as 400 TSOs to the southern border to prevent undocumented immigrants from bringing bottles of water into the country. That represents fewer than 1% of the total TSOs in the system, but we’re already pretty stretched at the airport. I’m also not convinced that 400 TSOs is going to be the final number. These things have a way of taking on lives of their own.
Congress is presenting the transfer of screeners as a threat to aviation security. It isn’t, but if it keeps the screeners in place for the summer, I’m happy to play along. No word on whether there will be a pre-check line along the border.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, the gaps will get filled in, but in the meantime, just keep an eye on the news and on your flight. It might mean getting to the airport even earlier than usual, but that’s better than missing your flight. After all, they have no place to put you.
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